Thai Princess Ubolratana to run for PM in March election

AP file photo

Thai Princess Ubolratana poses for a photo during her visit to promote Thailand’s film industry on March 24, 2010.

The Associated Press BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai political party on Friday named a princess as its nominee to be the next prime minister, upending tradition of the palace eschewing politics and upsetting all predictions about what might happen in next month’s elections.

The selection of Princess Ubolratana Mahidol by the Thai Raksa Chart Party marks a shock realignment of Thai politics by tying the king’s eldest sister to the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which hardcore royalists have long dismissed as opposed in spirit to the monarchy.

And it pits her against the preferred candidate of the military, which is considered one of Thailand’s most royalist institutions.

Current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup that ousted Thailand’s last elected government, on Friday accepted his selection as candidate to lead the next government by Palang the Pracharat Party, widely seen as a proxy for the military.

Prayuth had been considered the front-runner for the March 24 polls because changes in constitutional law and election rules were implemented by his government in a manner making it difficult for political parties without military backing to capture the premier’s post.

But Ubolratana’s de facto alliance with the forces of the exiled Thaksin — whose comeback the military has made every effort to block — puts Prayuth’s supporters in an extremely awkward position. Because she will be seen as a representative of the monarchy — the nation’s most revered and respected institution — it will be difficult to block her political rise.

“This is a game changer,” said Allen Hicken, a political scientist at the University of Michigan specializing in Southeast Asian studies. “In the event Thaksin-aligned parties win the election, it makes it very difficult for the military and royalists to contest, protest, or seek to overturn the result.”

Ubolratana was not present when her name was registered with the Election Commission by the Thai Raksa Chart Party. Its leader, Preechapol Pongpanit, said its executive committee “agrees that Princess Ubolratana, who is intelligent and capable, is the most appropriate name.” She made no known public appearances Friday.

“From my point of view, I think she understands Thai politics. She understands democracy,” he told reporters.

Because Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, the king and his immediate circle are not supposed to involve themselves directly in politics. Parliament has had members who were distant relatives of the monarch. Ubolratana falls into a gray area, as she is commonly called and treated as a princess, but her highest royal titles were taken away when she married an American more than four decades ago. Just hours after she was registered, another political party supporting Prayuth filed an objection with the Election Commission, arguing that the action broke rules banning the use of the royal institution as part of a political campaign.Speech

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